Representing Columbia’s most impoverished community brings no rewards, says First Ward City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton, but she is used to challenges.
“I’ve been poor all my life, so I know what poor people need. I do this to give a voice to families like mine,” said Crayton, a 45-year-old single mother.
Crayton has held the council seat for two terms while battling health problems and balancing jobs. She is running unopposed for election Tuesday for her third three-year term.
“I’ve only missed two council meetings in the whole six years, and that was due to being sick,” Crayton said.
Crayton suffered a heart attack in 2002 and was hospitalized for the flu and pneumonia in mid-March.
Crayton has twice sparked interest in establishing a curfew for minors but has never succeeded in having an ordinance passed. She became interested in curfews after several late-night disturbances by teenagers in her ward. She withdrew an initial proposal in June of 2003 after months of discussion. The idea came up again a few months later and had the support of Columbia police but never came to pass.
Carlos Buckner, a First Ward resident, said he would like to see Crayton push for the curfew again.
“I don’t know what she’s going to do to correct a lot of this stuff,” he said. “Kids need to be in the house at a certain time.”
Crayton plans in her third term to call attention to the Columbia schools’ dropout rate, unemployment and pursuit of grant funding during her next term. She said she hopes to see more homeownership and entrepreneurship in her community.
Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash said Crayton’s “heart is definitely in the right place. She definitely feels strongly about trying to help her neighborhood.”
Crayton tells the council about issues in her ward, such as suspicious behavior and homes in need of repair, Ash said.
“Whenever there have been problems that she feels very strongly about that are happening in her neighborhood, she brings them to the council’s attention,” Ash said.
While Crayton acknowledged that growth and the challenges it brings are important issues for the city, she has not decided how she would vote on proposed developments east of the city along Route WW.
Mayor Darwin Hindman said he looks forward to working with Crayton during her next term.
“I think she works hard to keep up with the overall city issues,” he said. “She is quite thoughtful about what her neighborhood needs as well.”
Crayton says her job doesn’t end after council meetings on Monday nights. She frequently answers phone calls and letters from residents concerned with issues in her ward such as discrimination, crime and unemployment.
“You don’t ever stop being a councilperson,” she said. “City Council needs to be open and not just go by what they hear at meetings. They need to go out and see what is happening in their communities.”
At her home on Oak Street, Crayton spends time taking care of her 15-year-old son, Tyrone. She balances her council position with her job at Gentry Middle School’s cafeteria and running the Successful Neighborhood Resource Center at 212 Lincoln Drive. The center provides food, free Internet access, computer training, counseling and aid in finding jobs.
“She is always wanting to help,” Buckner said. “She hands out a lot of food and tries to make it easier on needy families. She is a really caring lady.”
Crayton and a crew of volunteers cook a community-wide Thanksgiving dinner each year. This year they served 300 people at Lou’s Palace and handed out 2,000 baskets of food.
While Crayton said she doesn’t mind the work that goes into the meals, she hopes Columbia can find a way to address the larger problem of hunger in the community.
“Every year this thing goes up. We need to be finding people jobs and programs. It ought to be decreasing,” she said.
Crayton also reaches out to the children in the First Ward by coloring and handing out Easter eggs.
“We try to give the kids a glitter of hope,” she said.